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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions and Other Communications

To receive any questions or petitions from the public, or communications submitted by the Lord Mayor or the Chief Executive and to pass such resolutions thereon as the Council Procedure Rules permit and as may be deemed expedient.







No petitions were received.






Public Questions




Public Question Concerning Use of a Building for People of African Descent




Yvonne Wray asked whether a central building could be found for people of African Descent which would provide a resource to help people to identify with their culture and background and help children and generations to come.




Councillor Ben Curran, the Cabinet Member for Planning and Development, responded that he could relate to the importance for people to make connections with their culture and identity. He said he would be pleased to meet with the questioner to talk about the issue, including the requirements for a building and potential solutions.




Public Question Concerning Legal Proceedings




Russell Johnson asked whether the Council was content, at a time of austerity, that large sums of money had been spent to attempt to unsuccessfully criminalise a Councillor.




Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council, responded that there would be a cost to the Council if it did not adhere to the Streets Ahead contract and such cost would potentially be phenomenal and it would be unaffordable not to adhere to the contract.




Public Question Concerning the Streets Ahead Contract




Russell Johnson asked if the Leader of the Council could share her assessment of the reputational damage to Sheffield by what he called the mismanagement of the Amey PFI (Private Finance Initiative) Highways contract.




Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council, responded that it was disappointing when Sheffield appeared in the press and this affected the City in a negative way.




Public Question Concerning Standards in Public Life




Justin Buxton asked if Cabinet Members believed that a statement which had been made by a member of the Council to a resident on social media stating “it’s just as well I’m contemptuous of idiots like you then” was acceptable.




Councillor Ben Curran, the Cabinet Member for Planning and Development, made reference to the quote which Mr Buxton had given and which he had also raised with both himself and Councillor Olivia Blake, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Council, so they were aware of the context. He said that it was not his role to police the standards of others in a formal way. However, there was a formal process relating to standards of conduct. Complaints relating to Members’ conduct could be made through the appropriate Council procedure. He said that, if Mr Buxton was concerned about the conduct of the individual concerned or any other Member, he would suggest the matter was taken through the standards complaints procedure.


Councillor Olivia Blake then confirmed that she had nothing to add to Councillor Curran’s response.




Public Questions Concerning the Streets Ahead Programme




Justin Buxton asked several questions concerning Streets Ahead, as follows:




Whether the Cabinet Member was certain that the record keeping by Amey regarding work was of a thorough standard as that stipulated by the Streets Ahead contract and could provide a record which could be the subject of an audit.




Was Richard Wood, the private investigator and associates contracted to the Council, Amey Hallam Highways or Amey LG as, when questioned, they stated they are working for the Council.




Would the Cabinet Member confirm whether Amey and Acorn Environmental had received legally enforceable contravention notices of health and safety law?




Was the Council aware as to whether individuals working as subcontractors of Amey had been instructed to take photographs and videos of people outside barriers and who had instructed them to do so; why was the data collected and where and by whom was the data stored?




Councillor Bryan Lodge, the Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene, responded that with regard to the questions put by Mr Buxton, he would not be able to provide a detailed answer to the questions at this meeting. However, he would send a written response to Mr Buxton if he provided his contact details.




Public Questions Concerning the Outcome of Legal Proceedings




Rebecca Hammond asked the following questions concerning the outcome of an injunction hearing which had taken place on 27 October and a written verdict issued by Mr Justice Males.




Do they (the Cabinet Members) agree that the Judge’s interpretation of the injunction takes precedence over any others?




Do they agree that Mr Justice Males concluded that Councillor Alison Teal had interpreted the injunction correctly i.e. in the same way as he did?




Do they agree that consequently, Councillor Alison Teal was found not to be in contempt of court because she had not breached the injunction and this was not merely a technicality?




Nigel Slack referred to a question which he had asked at the meeting of Cabinet on 20 September 2017 concerning the injunction relating to Streets Ahead work and the response that he had been given. He asked whether, in light of a press release by the Council, indicating that the Council and Amey would continue to ensure that people who breach the injunction were brought to court and the judgement against one of the defendants in the recent injunction case for a similar breach, could the Council confirm whether any investigation had begun and whether the individual concerned would be brought to court?




Secondly, Mr Slack referred to previous questions which he had submitted on 4 and 18 October 2017 to Council and Cabinet respectively and concerning the email of a Director to two members of the Sheffield Tree Action Groups regarding the injunction. He asked on what statement by the Judge or other legal precedence does the Director base his decision and does the ‘legal department’ agree with his position?




In response to the questions of Rebecca Hammond, Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene, said that he accepted the words of Mr Justice Males and he then read a part of Justice Males’ written judgement relating to the court hearing on 27 October 2017 concerning the definition of a safety zone, as follows:


“I would accept that, as a matter of ordinary language and before considering the definition in the order, the council’s approach is correct. An area consisting of plastic barriers forming three sides and a wall forming the fourth side could properly be described as a safety zone. The area from which it is sought to exclude protesters or other members of the public is clearly identified.”


 “However, the order adopts a particular definition of “safety zone” and it is this which must be applied in the present case.”


Mr Justice Males had ruled that a boundary wall or hedge was not sufficient to enclose a safety zone. This was accepted and understood by the Council and Amey had been instructed to ensure a fourth side was placed around safety zones. It was a technicality in as much as it related to the way the safety zone was assembled, which meant that the safety zone was not complete in that case. Mr Justice Males accepted that as a matter of ordinary language and before considering the definition in the Order, the Council’s approach was correct.




Councillor Lodge said he was pleased that Councillor Teal was able to defend her position in court and he recognised the validity of the court and the process and had faith in the court. He also said that he hoped that people would accept all the rulings of the court as they accept this ruling and that they will not proceed within the safety zone barriers and allow the work relating to the highways to continue.




In responding to the questions put by Mr Slack, Councillor Lodge said that evidence of a breach was reviewed by the Council’s lawyers and the recent court proceedings showed that assertive action would be taken by the Council to uphold the law. In relation to Mr Slack’s second question, Councillor Lodge said that he had provided answers to the questions, although these might not be the answers which Mr Slack necessarily wanted to hear or would accept. Any decisions with regard to court proceedings were made following a review of the available evidence by lawyers to reach a view as to whether it met the correct standards for court. The Director had rightly and assertively challenged unlawful action and those who encouraged it.




Public Question Concerning the Installation of Sprinklers




Martin Hollingworth said that the Council was attempting to retro-fit blocks of flats with sprinklers. He said that he would like to know whether an entire tower block’s sprinklers would activate every time a resident burned toast. He also asked about electrical fires, which should not be fought with water.




Councillor Jayne Dunn, the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, responded to the questions and said that a sprinkler would only be activated at a very high temperature. Only the sprinkler immediately above an affected area would be activated. For example, if the affected area was a kitchen, the sprinklers in other rooms would not be activated. With regard to electrical fires, there was a breaker which would activate. Councillor Dunn said that there would be thorough consultation on any measures relating to sprinklers which the Council proposed to put in place, both with residents and the Fire and Rescue Service.